I learned a new term the other day – OTD. It means Off the Derech, or path. OTD applies to anyone who breaks out of the Chassidic insulated or totally sheltered Jewish world, by rejecting its teachings, values and lifestyle.
Anyone who bolts from the insulated community that he/she was born into, is taking a giant leap for which more likely than not, that individual is ill equipped. Those who willfully go OTD face a culture barrier, an education barrier and even a language barrier. Growing up in an insulated Chassidic or totally sheltered Jewish community, particularly in the New York City area where well defined, insulated Chassidic and sheltered Jewish enclaves abound, English is demoted to a second language at best. If English is spoken at all, chances are that it is spoken with an accent that is clearly not American. Growing up in an insulated Chassidic or sheltered Jewish community, one’s employment opportunities are severely limited, in that the education (for boys) that is emphasized in such communities consists of three subjects: Talmud, Talmud and Talmud… Growing up in an insulated Chassidic or totally sheltered Jewish community leaves one totally bereft of social skills, in that there is no interaction between males or females. Given all these shortcomings, one would do well to wonder, why there are those who are brave and daring enough go OTD and bolt from these communities.
Those who go OTD are beckoned by that which was nonexistent for their ancestors. There exists a free, open society that entices them with that which their insulated society shuns. Whereas their ancestors in the shtetl saw nothing alluring about the outside society with its rampant poverty, unchecked ignorance and total lack of finesse, those who go OTD, are enticed by a society that is unparalleled in technology, opportunity and lifestyle (good and bad) that not only beckons them but openly embraces them as well! Never before has the outside society made these Jews an offer that they find so very hard to refuse.
In life there are no guarantees, even in communities totally imbued with Torah, Mitzvos and HaShem’s presence. Children have minds of their own, regardless how they are raised. That’s why, when speaking about four sons, the Passover Haggadah does not mention a loyal son or an obedient son. The Passover Haggadah does however mention a wicked son and a rebellious son. If Ishmael rebelled against Abraham’s lifestyle and Esau shunned Isaac’s lifestyle, then why should those of well insulated Chassidic or sheltered Jewish communities be immune? As shocking as it may seem, children do not always follow the lifestyle and embrace the values of their parents, even when these children are raised in insulated Chassidic or sheltered Jewish communities. At times, these children actually shun their upbringing!
OTD may be a Jewish term, but in no way is it necessarily a Jewish phenomenon. Non Jewish insulated and sheltered communities are faced with the same “Tsorres”. Within the last 12 months, I read a book about Mennonites (a Germanic sect, much like the Amish) who bolted from the colonies where they were raised. They saw their communities as being so repressive, that they were denied basic freedoms. Yet, no different than those who broke away from insulated Chassidic or Sheltered Jewish communities, these Mennonite young adults had to learn how to fit in to a society for which they were ill equipped and lacked even the most basic skills.
Shulem Deen, a former Skverer Chassid not only broke away from his insulated community of New Square, about an hour northwest of New York City, but left his wife and five children as well. He recently published a book All Who Go Do Not return. I look forward to reading it.